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Pawlenty adds two to his jobs team
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New commissioners Cal Ludeman (left) and Matt Kramer were appointed Monday by Gov. Tim Pawlenty to lead the State Employee Relations Department and the Department of Trade and Economic Development. (MPR Photo/Tom Scheck)
Gov. Pawlenty has named two more people to his cabinet. Pawlenty appointed former legislator Cal Ludeman commissioner of the Department of Employee Relations. And he named Matt Kramer commissioner of the Department of Trade and Economic Development. Kramer says he'll work to keep and attract businesses to Minnesota in the sputtering economy. Ludeman says he wants to bring the state's employee unions back to the bargaining table to finalize their current contracts.

St. Paul, Minn. — Pawlenty's choices for the Department of Employee Relations and Trade and Economic Development may need to coordinate agendas over the next few months. Pawlenty says plugging a projected $4.5 billion budget deficit may involve privatizing some government functions and laying off employees.

As commissioner of the Department of Employee Relations, Cal Ludeman will likely be the point man on any reorganization. It will be Matt Kramer's job as Trade and Economic Development commissioner to help the state's unemployed find new jobs.

Ludeman, 51, is familiar with state government, having served in the Minnesota House from 1979 to 1985. He was the Republican candidate for governor in 1986 and ran for Congress in 1992, losing in both cases.

As employee relations commissioner, he will be in charge of negotiating contracts with the state's 37,000 union workers. That will include the current two-year deal, which has yet to be approved by the Legislature. Some lawmakers strongly oppose a provision extending health insurance and other benefits to gay and lesbian partners of state employees.

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Image Cal Ludeman, Employee Relations commissioner

If lawmakers reject the contracts or fail to ratify them by May 19, they will be voided. Ludeman says he'll invite union leaders back to the bargaining table in hopes of resolving the issue.

"It's in the interest of both state employees and the Minnesota public to have a contract approved by this Legislature," says Ludeman. "For the predictability of the employees, for their morale sake, I think it's important to have this contract, but changes will have to take place for that to happen."

Gov. Pawlenty didn't support the domestic partner measure while a member of the House. He also campaigned against it during the election. But it may not be the only issue he hopes to revisit. If the state and unions do go back to the bargaining table, Pawlenty wouldn't rule out bringing up wage issues.

"It seems that this late in the ball game that it's a little unrealistic to reopen the wage issue. But if the whole thing is on the table we may have to look at the whole package again," Pawlenty says. "I'm not suggesting that, I'm not encouraging that. But there's a whole variety of scenarios that could come into play. We'll just have to see how the process unfolds."

State employees went on strike over benefits in 2001. The contracts expire on July 1.

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Image Matt Kramer, commissioner of Trade and Economic Development

As a legislator, Ludeman opposed a collective bargaining law that gave teachers and some other workers the unlimited right to strike. He said he is less concerned about that provision now, but wants to look at whether some state health workers should retain the ability to strike.

Peter Benner, executive director of the largest state worker union, said he may not see eye to eye with Ludeman but considers him trustworthy.

Benner said he and other American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 6 members want the current contract dealt with as soon as possible, especially given the fact that talks on 2004-05 contracts begin in March.

Benner says lawmakers likely have enough votes to remove the domestic partner benefits provision. But he says he doesn't want to go back to the bargaining table to reopen the entire contracts.

"That process automatically drags us out to the end of May, because it takes us that long to do stuff," Benner says. "Or they can do what I think a number of the members in the House wanted to do last time -- which is to approve the contracts and take the domestic partner benefits out of it, and simply say that's it."

Both the Republican House speaker and chair of the Senate State Government Budget Committee say it would be unwise to reopen contracts.

Pawlenty says Matt Kramer, his selection for commissioner of the Department of Trade and Economic Development, has valuable private sector experience to help attract and retain businesses.

Kramer, a vice president of Syntegra USA -- a U.S. subsidiary of British Telecom -- says he views his role as a cheerleader for the state. He also says he believes DTED has a role in promoting Minnesota companies.

"The state can provide an even playing field for manufacturing companies that is ... everything across our tax structure, but also the degree of promotion the state can assist through marketing, and also building communities of interest to help these companies push their products on a national basis," Kramer says.

Kramer will lead an agency that has 225 employees and an annual operating budget of more than $300 million. Besides the duties inherent in the title, the Department of Trade and Economic Development also handles tourism promotion.

The agency's responsibilities are expected to expand because Pawlenty said he will move forward with a merger involving the Department of Economic Security, which handles unemployment benefits and job training activities.

Kramer and Pawlenty visit Grand Rapids Tuesday to talk with Blandin Paper Company executives and laid-off workers. The company laid off 300 people last week. They also expect to pay a visit soon to Keewatin, where 400 iron ore workers and 1,700 retirees drawing pensions are worried that National Steel Pellet Corp. is in danger.

Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, says Kramer and his department will have to play an important role in forestry and mining in northern Minnesota. He says he's concerned that several mines on the Iron Range could be closed in the next year. He says he's worried the administration may tap a $59 million mining fund to help plug the budget deficit. Rukavina says it would be better spent on attracting jobs and new mining initiatives to the state.

"DTED and their commissioner are going to have to play an important role in plugging that hole in the dike. To see this morning in the paper the possibility of looking at the 21st Century Minerals Fund at this time makes no sense to me at all," Rukavina says. "And I hope this commissioner will quickly grasp the importance of that fund and what it means in income to the state of Minnesota."

Pawlenty has now named 14 of his 26 cabinet members. He says he's reviewing possible candidates for the Department of Natural Resources and hopes to name his pick by early next week.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)

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